Whenever you watch a professional football game, one of the very first things that you will notice on the field is the uniform that the players are wearing. These uniforms are very noticeable, mainly because they provide identity for the players so that they will know which team they are on and which persons on the field are their teammates. Without uniforms, the baseball games in various leagues wouldn’t really look professional.
Even though all professional baseball teams have uniforms today, there actually weren’t uniforms during the early years of baseball. Which team started wearing uniforms? And how did the uniforms evolve to the ones we see today? We will find out about these as we dive into the history and evolution of the baseball uniform.
The First Baseball Uniforms
The first uniforms for a baseball game were worn by the New York Knickerbockers on April 8, 1849. Those uniforms have pants that are made of blue wool, while the shirt is white collared flannel. In addition, the players also wore straw hats to protect their eyes against the sunlight and for them to see clearer on the baseball field. After the Knickerbockers wore uniforms, other teams in Major League Baseball started wearing uniforms as well. By 1900, all teams in the said professional league wore uniforms during games.
According to historians, the signature blue and white team colors of the New York Knickerbockers were chosen because they represent a more professional look. On the other hand, the small or amateur clubs during that time wore red in order to stay away from the norm that blue was the only respectable color in football. Interestingly, the color red is the dominant color in the MLB today.
The professional look of the early baseball uniforms is also amplified through the use of wool as a material. While cotton is the more comfortable and affordable choice for uniforms, many teams in the late 1800s and early 1900s preferred to use wool since it is a more sophisticated material.
Design Changes for the Baseball Uniforms
The Cincinnati Red Stocking was the first baseball team to change the pants that players wore from full-length pantaloons to knee-high knickers, which are said to be more comfortable to wear alongside knee-high socks. Before the change to knickers, the pantaloons that baseball players wore would just add bulkiness underneath the knee-high socks, and this bulkiness proved to be uncomfortable for many players during that time.
In 1882, because most baseball teams used blue and white colors for their uniforms, players would wear different colored stockings that covered the leg from the foot to the knee. These stockings helped players identify which ones were their teammates on the baseball field. Then, in 1906, the New York Giants became the first team to wear collarless jerseys, another design change that provided more comfort for baseball players. However, the collarless jersey design wouldn’t be adopted by other teams until 1914.
Home and Away Uniforms
At the start of the 20th century, a few baseball teams in the MLB started the practice of wearing two different uniforms, with one worn on home games while the other worn on road games. For baseball teams, the color white is predominant for home uniforms, while black is the more prevalent color for away uniforms.
One of the first teams to implement two different uniforms for games was the Brooklyn Superbas, which chose to utilize a blue pattern for their away uniforms in 1907. The Superbas would then be followed by the New York Giants in 1916, and this team would have dark blue and black as the predominant colors on their road uniforms.
In addition to home and away uniforms, some teams also added pinstripes and piping to make the uniforms look more appealing. It is widely believed that the Chicago Cubs were one of the first MLB teams to apply pinstripes on their uniforms. Team logos were also added to uniforms around the 1900s, although it was only in the 1930s when almost every team had its own logo stitched or embedded on the players’ uniforms.
Adding Numbers to Uniforms
The Cleveland Indians were the first team in baseball that added large numbers on the sleeves of their uniforms. These numbered uniforms were first worn on June 2, 1916. The numbers were added so that coaches and players would be able to know which player is located in a specific position on the field. Unfortunately, the numbers only lasted for a few weeks and were abandoned since teams and organizers couldn’t see the benefit of adding numbers to uniforms.
However, numbers were added again on uniforms in 1929, particularly in the game that was played by the Cleveland Indians and the New York Yankees. But, instead of being on the sleeves, the numbers were applied to the back of the jerseys. By 1933, all teams in Major League Baseball had numbered uniforms for their players.
Then, in 1939, the New York Yankees became the first baseball team to retire a player’s jersey number. The jersey number was number 4, and it belonged to Lou Gehrig, who was assigned the said number because he would hit behind Babe Ruth, the third batter of the team that was assigned with the number 3 uniform. Gehrig retired in 1939 due to an unknown illness that hindered his ability to play baseball. The illness would later be called Lou Gehrig’s disease (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis).
In 1960, the Chicago White Sox became the first baseball team to add the player’s last name below the number at the back of the jersey. Other teams would shortly follow, and the addition of the last name on the uniform was beneficial since announcers or commentators could easily identify the players in various positions on the baseball field.
For many years, the concept and design of baseball uniforms never really changed, although there are minimal modifications done to the uniforms in order to make them more durable and more comfortable for players. If you want to check out how a real MLB jersey looks on you, there are various retailers that sell authentic MLB jerseys, and some even sell jerseys that are signed by popular players in the said league.